Long working hours and on-demand technologies have given modern-day American workers reason to think about how they balance their lives. Work-life balance, the term used to describe a healthy equilibrium between time spent at and away from work, has become a popular topic, especially among younger generations who are enthusiastic about finding alternatives to the overworked lives of their parents.
A healthy work-life balance is about prioritizing your health over your work and bringing your best self to everything you do. Though it may seem like an elusive concept, it’s achievable for many workers. Effectively budgeting time, taking breaks, setting boundaries and practicing mindfulness can help you get there.
Why Work-Life Balance Matters
According to the American Psychological Association, one-third of Americans feel they live with extreme stress, and 77% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress. You may not be surprised to hear that the number one source of all this stress, according to survey participants, is job pressure. These statistics are more than anecdotal cries for shorter workweeks. They’re proof that better work-life balance could improve the quality of life for many Americans.
While it’s obvious that a healthy work-life balance is good for individuals, it also benefits employers and society as a whole.
Here are some perks of a healthy work-life balance:
- Less strain on families. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found long working hours were tied to increased family conflict.
- Increased productivity. Studies show that taking breaks and disengaging from tasks help eliminate decision fatigue and improve focus.
- Improved physical health. Making time to move your body is important. A study from the New York Times found taking five-minute walking breaks throughout the day can combat lethargy and even dull hunger pains.
- Improved mental health. The same New York Times study found that five-minute walking breaks can improve your mood.
Let Technology Work for You
Modern technology is a big contributor to our work-life imbalance, but it also offers many solutions. There are times we should limit our technology and times we should utilize it to help clear our brains and organize our days.
Installing productivity apps and optimizing your devices to streamline workflows, block distractions and provide insight about browsing habits can help you achieve your balance goals. We’ve included app suggestions and tech tips for each section below.
Manage Your Time
Managing your work hours efficiently can improve your productivity and prevent your job responsibilities from overflowing into your personal time. The same is true for managing your time at home. You can batch tasks like laundry and meal prep or carve out time to take care of responsibilities on weeknights so your weekends are free for leisure and family time.
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to properly manage your time without some planning. Different people prefer different types of planning. You may enjoy an hour-by-hour schedule for your workdays, or you may prefer a simple to-do list. Either way, planning ahead keeps you organized and saves time.
Tech to try: Make the most of your day with Asana, a project management app that lets you build out your schedule in advance, check off tasks and autofill recurring events.
Set Realistic Micro-Goals
Similar to planning ahead, setting micro-goals can help you eventually reach a big goal, helping you achieve work-life balance. You can set small, reachable goals, such as a specific word count or the number of sales calls you’d like to make, for the day or even the hour to help keep you on track.
Tech to try: Make a checklist of your micro-goals in Todoist, an advanced to-do list app that helps you free up space in your mind and complete tasks on time.
Take Breaks to Recharge Your Mind
Go for a ten-minute walk or take a small yoga break with coworkers.
Tech to try: Use a FitBit to track your steps and ensure you move during work hours, or try StandApp—an app that encourages you to stand periodically.
Instead of caffeinating at your desk, enjoy a cup of coffee with a colleague in the breakroom.
Tech to try: The MicroBreaks Chrome Extension encourages you to take micro-breaks for deep breathing, preventing eye strain, stretching and more. It also lets you customize your own break reminders, like a coffee break prompt every few hours.
There may be days when skipping lunch or eating at your desk seems necessary, but try not to make it a habit. Eating a healthy meal will energize you and the social interaction will help you feel connected.
Tech to try: After lunch, transition back to work-mode with a quick meditation. The meditation app, Aura offers three-minute meditations perfect for refocusing your mind.
Spending even 20 minutes in nature can reduce stress hormone levels. You can get your nature break by taking a walk in the park, sitting near a water feature or even looking out the window at a green area.
Tech to try: Want to know the names of the plant life you see on your walks? Try PictureThis – Plant Identification, an app that tells you the species of each plant you photograph.
If you work at home or in one of the trendy offices with nap pods, taking a short nap can restore you during a long day. If you don’t have time for a nap, taking microbreaks to rest your eyes every five to ten minutes can help prevent eye strain when working in front of a computer.
Tech to try: Let technology remind you when it’s time to take a little break. Try Stretchly, an app that prompts you to take a 20-second microbreak every 10 minutes and a five-minute break every 30 minutes.
Weekend: Extended Breaks
Working on the weekends is a quick way to destroy your work-life balance. Weekends are a great opportunity to clear your mind of work responsibilities, recharge, do the things you enjoy and spend time with loved ones.
Tech to try: Get to know your city with MyCityWay, an app that locates bars, shops, WiFi spots, events and more in your area.
Vacations: A Full Recharge
Don’t leave your PTO unused. Long stretches of time away from the workplace are big contributors to your work-life balance and will recharge you so that you’re more productive and creative upon return.
Tech to try: Check at ALLSTAYS to find campsites, hotels and everything else you might need on a road trip.
Set Boundaries to Unplug
Modern-day technology has conditioned us to be available 24/7. Turning off work can be difficult, especially for those who work with colleagues across different time zones. Setting boundaries for yourself, as well as for your employer, coworkers and clients, is essential for work-life balance.
Stay True to Your Work Hours
Sometimes working overtime can’t be avoided, but if you’ve respectfully created boundaries and managed your time properly, you shouldn’t have to extend your work hours. Try to complete all your work within the hours you set for yourself.
Tech to try: Want to use your laptop without being sucked into work tasks? Try the Freedom app which allows you to block any site you want after certain hours.
Don’t Allow Social Media to Distract You
Just as work can cut into your personal time, social media can be a tempting distraction during work hours. Avoid social media and save personal communications like text messages for your break times in order to stay focused and complete work tasks on time.
Tech to try: The time-tracking app, RescueTime, can record how and where you spend your time online, so you can be aware of any social media habits during the workday.
Practice Mindfulness to Improve Focus
It’s hard to separate work and personal time if your mind is somewhere else. Being present can help ensure you’re bringing your best self to any situation.
Morning meditation can activate your parasympathetic nervous system and release energy-boosting endorphins. It also helps turn on your ability to focus which can last throughout the day, helping you be more mindful of your work.
Tech to try: One of the best meditation apps, Calm, guides you through short meditations, preparing you to focus throughout the day. You can choose a guided meditation or use the peaceful soundtracks to meditate independently.
Working towards more balance in your life can benefit you in many ways. You can use technology to streamline your responsibilities at both work and home, saving time for the things you love. Just as you manage your finances, you should manage your time—it is a finite resource, after all.